Please give an example on how to view Medea in a psychoanalytic perspective.

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Psychiatrists have identified a condition which they have termed the Medea Complex. Several articles on the subject are accessible on the internet, including those on the reference links below. An article in the British Journal of Psychiatry titled "The Medea Complex: the Mother's Homicidal Wishes to her Child” describes the condition in part as follows:

1.     The situation in which the mother harbours death wishes to her offspring, usually as a revenge against the father, is described and named the Medea complex.

2.     It is shown that there is considerable resistance against admitting these thoughts to the consciousness of the mother or any other person, but that they are of general occurrence.

The Medea complex is somewhat analogous to the better-known Oedipus complex in that both involve unconscious death wishes. A mother who is afflicted with the Medea complex typically projects her hatred for her children’s father onto the children themselves. It is noteworthy that Medea in Euripides’ play has two sons. It seems more likely that a mother would project hatred onto boys rather than girls because boys would be far more likely to remind her of their father. However, a mother harboring hatred for an unfaithful husband or lover might influence daughters to share her generalized hatred of men in general and make it difficult for them to have normal relations with any man. Such seems to be the case with Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations.

The article in the British Journal of Psychiatry states a profound and tragic truth in restrained scholarly prose. A mother would have “considerable resistance against admitting” these death wishes against her own children, but such wishes “are of general occurrence,” meaning that many mothers would like to murder their children because of their hatred of the children’s father. Fortunately, not too many children are actually murdered by their mothers, but a significant number of children suffer all their lives from having been emotionally rejected by their mothers and from having been psychologically or physically abused, or both.

A harrowing memoir of child abuse by a mother is A Child Called “It” (1995) by David James Pelzer.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous spam response not withstanding, I think that Medea can be seen in a psychoanalytic manner in a couple of ways.  The first would be to examine how the issue of gender is socalized, as this holds a tremendous impact on why people act the way they do.  Both Jason and Medea are guilty of some tremendously awful transgressions.  I don't think that Medea could ever be viewed as a figure that is not responsible for some fairly horrific realities.  However, I think that Jason is not really viewed with as much disgust.  Part of this might be a result of what people value and perhaps what Jason did in terms of usurping power in an illegitimate manner, making a daughter turn on her family, covet and marry another woman for political purposes and discard the mother of his children is not seen as bad as Medea's actions.  Yet, a psychoanalytic approach to this might examine why society deems the woman's actions far worse without giving fair scrutiny to the man's actions, the reason for the woman acting in the manner she did.  Freud's arguments about how women are products of the socialization of their world would be relevant here.

Another psychoanalytic approach would be more focused on Medea herself.  To what do we ascribe her inability to show emotion in a productive and more healthy manner?  The chorus makes her fully aware that what she is going to do in terms of killing the children represents a point of no return, a transgression from which there can be no salvation.  Yet, she concedes this and simply suggests that it is worth it to hurt "him," meaning Jason.  I think that the psychoanalytic perspective would assess what conditions exist in her upbringing and her life to possess such a distorted and unhealthy view of emotional expression.  Are her actions reflective of victimization or are they representative of the purest form of power possible in that she is seeking to do something about the condition in which she finds herself?  I think that this could represent a starting point from which the psychoanalytic perspective of the drama could be revealed.